The peace did not last long. Thandi’s second date on the Tambo-Malawi church plan was another disaster. Jonah, the man Tambo had propositioned on behalf of his daughter, had suggested a prayer before dinner at Beluga. This was fine, Thandi was a God-fearing woman. But then he, Jonah, proceeded to invite the nearby tables to join in the blessing of the platter spread with nigiri, sashimi and some beautifully prepared temaki. The bewildered father and daughter and, at the table to their right, an old couple, were unable to resist the man’s enthusiasm and overpowering sense of goodness.

“Heavenly Father, we thank you for this sushi, for the waters from whence it came. Dear Holy God, lay Your hands on the soya sauce and wasabi. We remember those without as we enjoy so much of Your endless grace. God bless this place of business, and its patrons, may we always know You and Your mysterious ways.”

It was such a beautiful prayer. Thandi noticed the old woman with purple-tinged hair wiping a tear from her eye and, upon returning to their table, she reached for her husband’s hand. But still, it was a bit too much for Thandi Malawi. It would have been forgivable if Jonah did not shroud every event in prayer. They prayed a separate prayer before dessert and when Jonah paid for the bill, he prayed on the tip and delighted the waiter in his requests to God that the R100 tip be doubled and tripled. He prayed on departing Beluga, home of fine dining, to the continued astonishment of its prim patrons. The car ride home was washed in gospel music and before he leaned in to kiss her Thandi noticed his lips moving as he obviously consulted with his Lord first.

“Well, how was the kiss?” a desperate Tambo asked.

Thandi scowled in response and retreated to her bedroom. Things were not well.

Tambo paid attention on Sunday. Not because he was interested or looking for encouragement but because he was tired. Perhaps it was in this moment of weakness that he found himself volunteering, after duly being pressed by the granny to his left, for the church baking committee. Tambo’s only relief, when he joined the baking committee group at the end of the service, was to find Dolores in the same gathering.

“What’s wrong, you don’t look so good?” Dolores asked as Tambo took a seat beside her.

“I don’t know what I’m doing here.”

“Can you even bake?”

Tambo laughed. He realised that whenever he was laughing Dolores was there. After being briefed by the committee leader on a series of cake sale dates over the next few months, Tambo suggested Dolores join him for a cup of coffee in the café down the way.

“How old is your daughter?” Dolores asked once they’d given the waiter their orders.

“Thirty-eight. Yours?”

“Forty. At least she will be in a few weeks.”

“You must have had her young,” Tambo said feeling a bit foolish but also meaning the compliment.

Dolores smiled. She was easy to be with, easy to talk to.

“Esther was a good mother but … I dunno what went wrong with Thandi.”

“Just because she’s single? Come on, go easy on the girl.”

“You’re looking too, though.”

Dolores shrugged. “I thought I would help. It doesn’t bother me though. Tina is more bothered by it than me.” She sipped her rooibos tea. “I mean, what does it matter? Why all this pressure for a woman to marry?”

“Maybe she’s lonely.”

“I suppose.”

Tambo wanted to ask Dolores if she was lonely but that seemed too forward.

“You hate the church. So you must really love your daughter,” Dolores commented.

“What do you mean? How can you tell?’

“I’ve watched you.”

Tambo sighed. “Esther was sick. A simple sickness that could easily be cured with medicine but her church leader, a stupid man by all accounts, wanted to lay hands instead. I don’t know how he did it but he talked my intelligent wife into forgoing medication.”

The waiter came to ask if everything was fine, Dolores waved him off.

“I was powerless. All I had was medicine. This man had God. Esther died.”

“I am so sorry, Tambo.”

“I know it’s illogical of me. To condemn all churches because my wife got mixed up in a quack one but–” he sipped his coffee to avoid crying.

***

Tell us what you think: What advice would you give to Dolores and Tambo? Do you think every woman secretly wants to get married? Do you think some women are happier to stay single? Why?